After a brief scare where I overslept and awoke about 45 minutes before my bus was too leave, I bolted for the station, no shower, no breakfast and a fairly thick hangover. Could this still be from New Years? The 8 hours or so to Puno on the other side of Lake Titicaca in Peru was painstakingly slow but gave interesting insight into farming life in this part of the world. The most obviously striking thing is the dark red earth, which is used to make the blocks for the walls and houses of the locals. Yes their houses are actually made of earth. How these do not disintegrate during the rains I canīt figure out. The land itself is very damp almost bog like.
After about 3 hours we arrived at the border town of Desaguadero
. The border officials here know what side their bread is
buttered and have the most efficient border crossing I have seen yet. Boom Boom, passport stamped, no questions, no monies change hands. I didnīt encounter any Americans along the way so not sure how they fare at this juncture. 5 hours later I arrive in Puno
I was just about to exit the bus terminal and bang, thunderstorm. Regular as clockwork about 2.30 or 3 every day. I was approached by a local who seemed to ahve an answer for all my problems. Hostel. Done. Tour for tomorrow. Done. Follow me sir, taxi and I was out of there. This was turning out ot be a very efficient day. A warm bed, a snooze, a quick dinner and back to bed again to rest up for my early start to the floating islands, Oros and Taquille.
Sleep or so I thought.... A rather strange phenomeanon struck me. Up until now I generally had no issues with altitude, a bit of puffing and panting on the hills in La Paz but even that wasnt as bad as I had expected. No soóner had I drifted off in Puno then I awoke gasping for air. A bit of a shock but I shrugged it off and drifted off again. Seconds later the same thing happened. This continued for aprroximately one hour and a half , and changed from being quite frightening to simply irritating, until I eventually drifted off. (Obviously I have limited medical knowledge but Iīll have a stab at what I think may have been happening. I believe when you sleep your breathing becomes more shallow? Given Puno is the highest I have ever slept, over 3800 metres , I think I was not taking in enough oxygen in my shallow breaths and in a panic my body was waking me up again to start breathing deeper. Thats my two cents anyway. If anybody else knows why or as an alternative reason please enlighten. Dr. S. Murtagh). Sunday
I awoke unsuspectingly to a gloriously clear warm day. I had been told by a few that the floating islands of Oros were not that exciting but I enjoyed the education.
Stepping off the boat and onto the island was a strange sensation. It was surprsingly sturdy but at the same time you knew you werenīt standing on solid earth, just a giant carpet of reeds. We were greeted by a large family, many of the women weaving, grandpa was building a miniture reed boat and the head of the family gave us a 5 minute demo on how the islands are built.
- Each family (extended sometimes) has their own island.
- An island will take approx 6 months to build and will last approx 10-12 years until it goes Titanic.
- The base is comprised of two layers.
1.Roots of the reeds (which grow naturally in the lake) are dug up in cubic/cuboidic sections. These are quite bouyant even though on appearances they look like they should sink faster than I do in a swimming pool. Stakes are driven through them and they are bound to each other to build up the required area.
2. Reeds to a depth of approx 1.5 meters are piled onto them and these need to be topped up every 3 months or so.
- They then construct little huts and rooms out of reeds and wood, and place these on the islands. These serve as bedrooms, common rooms etc.
- All this is done in shallow water near the edge and when ready they tow the island out into the lake wherever they weant to setup camp.
- They anchor the island with ropes and stakes in the shallow part and also drop a big stone down through the middle. They can move it around as they please, handy I guess if they donīt like the neighbours cats or the new fence or something, or just fancy a different view.
Immediately my reaction was why on earth would they go to all this trouble. Then I thought well these guys donīt work in the traditional sense, they just live off the lake and
maintainng their home and some fishing (and entertaining some photo happy gringoes) is their work. They could easily live on the edge of the lake like many others but choose to maintain this traditional way of living. After the island tour we were taken across on a reed boat to the main village area (just a bigger island) which had a school, shops, a fish farm and other ammenities. All in all it was very impressive, one of the teenagers had even rigged up a 14 inch t.v. to a car battery in his room. It all seemed quite simple and pleasant existence though I wouldnīt like to be out there during a storm.
Next up was a visit to the island of Taquille.
Now these guys are a great bunch of lads as well. They have their own language, costumes, customs.They are very self sufficient and every inch of the island is devoted to farming. They wear certain colours and garments if theyīre single and different ones
if they are married. The women always walk behind the men as its the manīs job to show the woman the way!.. ahem.. They dont have dogs on the island because they believe they are bad luck.
That night when I returned to Puno there was a festival on the streets. I observered for as long as I could bear the damp cold weather but couldnt figure out what it was for. After I discovered a really nice traditional restaurant. They had a local band playing traditional instruments, singing and dancing. I alss tried alpaca for the first time and it was one of the nicest meals I have ever had. Iīve been reccommending the restaurant to everyone I have met since that is Puno bound.